Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 120 - 135)



  120. In terms of providing a justification for using the acts which are available under the new legislation, what sort of level of evidence do you need before you can start to take steps to use it? What do you look for?
  (Mr Veness) In terms of beginning the investigation, it is risk to life and a threat in relation to harm to the public. We would begin an investigation on that basis. Clearly pretty well all of the offences which are provided for require the criminal burden of proof to be satisfied before we are able to move to proactive operation in respect of arrest. We do not have of course the specific provision under the Terrorism Act 2000 whereby being concerned in terrorism gives us a broader basis. Those are the indispensable powers that I have described to the Chairman and which have been of such merit.

Mr Beggs

  121. How satisfied are you, bearing in mind the amount of effort that has got to be put in to bring forward a successful prosecution, that sentencing policy is consistent and is used also to be a deterrent?
  (Mr Veness) I am not, sir, for partly the reason that I touched upon beforehand. I think that certainly we are seeing that the paramilitaries in Great Britain, particularly dissident and especially the Real IRA, have seen an opportunity whereby their profit, both the personal, organisational and terrorist purposes, can be gained with a relatively low risk as to the eventual criminal outcome. If they were engaged in doing this with cocaine they would be in real jeopardy of prison sentences. That is why they have chosen diesel washing and alcohol and tobacco, because they know where the ceiling rests and indeed how the courts will interpret that. To a degree it is a question of understanding how the forensic map of activity is changing and how criminality, particularly terrorist criminality, is exploiting that degree of understanding. I would emphasise that the picture we are painting of dissident activity, particularly here in Great Britain, is a year or 15 months old. * * *

  122. Can I follow on from this, I had finished but you provoked another question, there is, I think, quite an interesting moral and philosophical dilemma here. What you are saying is that because of the shorter sentences which arise from smuggling petrol, cigarettes, and so on, the paramilitaries are moving into those areas rather than drugs. Bearing in mind the profits from either of those activities are equally devastating in terms of their capacity to cause disruption, if you like, there is not a lot of difference, but in terms of the so-called social consequences the smuggling of petrol and cigarettes, whilst not below the consequence, is not as devastating as the smuggling of cocaine and heroin. The latter has far more short-term potential to cause enormous social damage, so you could almost construct an argument that it is better keeping them in tobacco and petrol smuggling than cocaine. I just throw this up as one of the things we really have to look at because, to a certain extent, there is always going to be a level of displacement activity and if they move the penalties for one they will then begin with another and we have to assess the social consequences of that diversion of their criminality.
  (Mr Veness) I take a rather more optimistic view of confidence in judicial discretion. If a ceiling is available to a judge to impose a penalty in a particular case then if within the facts of that case there are clearly exacerbating factors that seems to me to be an entirely proper consideration that a judge should bear in mind. If, for example, he sees a group of defendants in front of him who although they have been engaged in diesel laundering but they are, in fact, clearly using part of that in order to inflict great harm on the British public then that seems to me, if it is provable on the evidence, to be an entirely justifiable deduction for a judge to form, providing he has the sentencing scope to do it. What I am suggesting is that the sentencing scope at the moment limits the deterrent effect upon the criminal and, in fact, encourages the criminal to be a cigarette smuggler and a diesel launderer, because they are taking advantage of the moral dilemma that you have described.

  Mr Bailey: In a way it is similar to the principle behind the enhanced sentencing debate to a motivated crime, that is level of discretion.

Mr Barnes

  123. On the one hand you have the world of ordinary criminal activity you describe and then you have terrorist activity. Terrorist activity is probably the clearest when it is doing its attacking, bombing, etc, and is, maybe, less clear when it is involved in illegal fund-raising activities. In between there is this sort of intermingled world of terrorists out to get cash and engaging in activities that are the same as the ordinary criminal world, and they are sometimes involved with those criminals, but this is going to be at very different degrees. You will even get criminals in some way involved in assisting these activities who are not aware of the game they are in to.
  (Mr Veness) Yes.

  124. How do you establish yourselves that this is linked in with terrorist-type interests and concerns in this world that is it in between the two?
  (Mr Veness) You are absolutely right, your point is a significant challenge of detection. With research and intelligent analysis they are detectable in terms of which is broadly one and which looks to be exclusively, if I can describe it like that, without the common criminality which has no link. For example, what is the logistic chain and is it back to an area where we know that there are associations with terrorist activity historically? Can we trace that linkage? The individuals who are concerned, are their antecedents those of acquisitive criminality exclusively or are their antecedents more complicated? What you are touching upon, indicative as well, is the very real challenge for Great Britain, because if this complication of a terrorist who is engaged X days a week in either lining his own pocket, lining his organisation's pocket or creating the financial flexibility to spend £500 on a car which is going to be a car bomb on Saturday but is also working with GB based criminals the extent to which we are going to get a leeching of paramilitary activity into mainland criminality, either willingly or by coercion, is to me a very significant cause for concern. The drift is in the wrong direction on that at the moment.

  125. Whilst it will be awkward in many ways just to establish, in terms of getting hold of money, what the terrorist element is in that it must be more difficult for you to then prove what the link is between the two?
  (Mr Veness) Yes.

  126. That, presumably, is what you ideally want to do in order to stamp down on the terrorist element. Can you, perhaps, just describe what some of these problems are?
  (Mr Veness) In many ways the utopian outcome is to achieve an exclusively focussed terrorist prosecution which portrays before the courts the criminality and the fact that this was all geared towards a terrorist outcome, a bomb or an assassination, or whatever. That would be our overwhelming objective. The duty is more complicated for us because if we have opportunities under the criminal law to prosecute somebody for criminality and that would have the effect of disrupting what they are able to do as a terrorist it would seem to me to be in the public interest to vigorously pursue them across the board. For example, to use the international example, here on the mainland a great many international terrorists are engaged in credit card fraud. If we can deal with them before the courts for that that seems to me to be in the public interest because whilst they are engaged in dealing with the problem of being prosecuted for credit card fraud their inclination or attitude for other forms of activity will be reduced, so we have to move on the broad front.

  127. You indicated that you had an interest in seeing sentencing scope extended in various areas, because you felt that that would have, maybe, a deterrent effect on criminal activities that would be linked in with terrorist activity. Are there other problems that you feel that the courts or legislative system presents to you in not being able to get action taken, prosecutions established and that there is some scope for adjustment?
  (Mr Veness) There are very significant broad challenges in mounting a terrorist prosecution in Great Britain, regardless of whether it is Irish of whatever form, loyalist or dissident Republican or, indeed, international. They all arise from the very best possible motives. These are entirely legitimate areas of concern. Custody time limits place an enormous burden upon the investigators in order to bring those matters promptly before the court; the provisions and challenges that exist under the European Convention of Human Rights, all entirely respected; the position that arises under Public Interest Immunity and the probing of the sources of information. If you put all of those factors, all extremely justifiable individually, together then there are formidable hurdles in bringing successful terrorist prosecutions. This is true of many legal jurisdictions, ours is an example of that. I am not pretending those can be changed this afternoon.


  128. You use the word "coercion" have you any evidence that on the mainland what you might call ordinary common criminals having been associated with some scam involving some terrorists, he then gets lent on, as is endemic in Northern Ireland, and once you join that club you do not leave it or else somebody gets killed or knee-capped. Do we have evidence of that in Britain?
  (Mr C) * * * There is certainly evidence of people being pressurised not to speak out to the authorities of the people they are dealing with. Very serious threats.

  129. Not just not speaking out but continuing in the same line of criminality because once you have done it, once you are in the club we will see that you will stay in the club.
  (Mr Veness) I will not pretend it is on the same scale as our colleagues face in Northern Ireland. There are certainly examples, both historic, in the medium term and current where we are seeing this.

Mr Barnes

  130. In Northern Ireland there is some indication that the Provisional IRA get themselves more involved in what might be termed mafia-type activities, that is the backlog of their previous position and now they are used to this type of activity they now do it very much for their own benefit. Being as they are not as active in Great Britain as the Real IRA, who have different objectives in this connection, is this a different pattern that you think that you have got here with the Real IRA, although you did use the term IRA plc and indicated there might be a deal of ripping things off for one's own individual benefit that was behind it, it was part of the culture that may be occurring within the Provisional IRA in Northern Ireland?
  (Mr Veness) The broad distinction I would draw, and colleagues may wish to add to it, is that the structure that one sees associated with PIRA is very much akin in organisational terms to a mafia-type structure of organised crime. One sees a great deal of discipline. One sees a significant degree of coercion and one sees the profits under control for the benefit of the organisation. I would not exclude the footprint of that activity associated with PIRA here in Great Britain, I do not think we can draw a neat division in respect of where that occurs. The reason I have focussed on the Real IRA is because that is the group that is currently bombing Great Britain, I think that is entirely appropriate. They are marked at the moment by a much looser structure, one which appears to be rather more nakedly geared towards profit, both of the individual members and, to a degree, the organisation, and almost having the capability, because there is a significant amount of used bank notes as part of the process, that if you do want to buy a motor car for £500 on a Saturday afternoon you can do that without significant obstruction or need for specific fund-raising activity. I think one sees a distinction in terms of the structures of the two organisations and they are not exclusive.

  Mr Barnes: Thank you.

Mr Tami

  131. The Metropolitan Police Service is not represented on the Organised Crime Task Force for Northern Ireland, do you think that is a problem, something that should be changed, or are you happy with that relationship?
  (Mr Veness) We respect that the Northern Ireland Organised Crime Task Force is a Northern Ireland entity under ministerial leadership. We see an increasing nexus, as I hope we have been able to pit this afternoon, and a worrying one, between the spread of particular forms of paramilitary criminality on to Great Britain. I think the case is either driven by the needs of a particular investigation, a particular project that the Task Force are engaged in, and we would be anxious to contribute if we could play a useful part. We are conscious that that is an entity that is growing and developing. We are very much encouraged by its work and we would wish to be supportive if the opportunity presented itself.

  132. You talked today about how you interact with various groups, Customs, et cetera, how well do you think that works? Where do you think that can be improved? Are there organisations that work better with you? I know it is a catch-all question.
  (Mr Veness) The closest link, as I hope you predicted, would be with the Police Service of Northern Ireland, that is because the logistic route that worries us most is going to emanate from that territory. Certainly almost of equal significance in law enforcement terms is the work of the Garda Sochana. Superintendent A who heads up the Irish Squad of the Metropolitan Police Special Branch his dealings are more regularly with Dublin and Belfast than they are with Sussex, and that is operationally essential. The linkages that exist at chief officer and director level in respect of the organisations are very effective. I mentioned that I think there may be the opportunity, particularly as we are seeing a dynamically evolving picture, of the footprint of these activities on the mainland for that to achieve yet greater structural and strategic focus in terms of the sort of concerted endeavours we have seen against Class A drugs, the exploitation of humans, child prostitution, where we do see rather more cohesive and enduring structures and a keener appreciation at all levels of the organisation. This is a problem that is not only real but is getting worse, which focuses the endeavours that follow. There are opportunities which maybe could build upon the work of the Northern Ireland Organised Crime Task Force. It is almost as if without being unduly adventurous there is a United Kingdom role that could be performed here, because this is not just a Northern Ireland problem, and we have the additional actors who can play a role here, our own National Crime Intelligence Service and our own National Crime Squad, who provide a cohesive GB contribution.

  133. If I was stopped with a lorry, Customs stopped me, and I am found to have cigarettes or whatever substance, how is that interaction worked? What is the mechanism that they decide, is it on the scale, is it based purely on intelligence that you might have had before about this particular load, bearing in mind I might not have any connections with Northern Ireland or anything like that?
  (Mr C) There is a system in place of seizure notification. You talk about the interaction with other agencies, certainly over the last 18 months the improvement and the co-operation with various agencies, not just Customs & Excise, but also traffic officers, the armed services, they are all working together against this problem, has been immense, therefore, there is a greater awareness amongst all of these different agencies that should something come to their notification that is of interest in terms of this problem we note it within real time and we can act on that and try to seize what intelligence is available on that and the sharing of that intelligence. It is progressing forward in a very positive manner.
  (Mr A) I think it is a very good point to make as well because the average driver will not have security traces and they will be selected for that very purpose. The criminals that are engaged in the warehousing distribution of these goods when they arrive do not have security traces, they will be British based criminals. It is important that we do engage very closely, usually with Customs & Excise, and we deal with that at the strategic level. We also encourage forces around the country to engage locally and operationally with their regional customs officers and certainly any suspicions of these activities are usually reported, any pre-emptive operations are usually discussed before they happen. Yes, there are some significant successes being built, one particular case I can refer to is a lorry entering Great Britain, intelligence had been developed over the weekend, it had actually come to fruition over night and the lorry landed in the South of England at Dover. This lorry was hauling a considerable amount, about 2.5 million cigarettes were suspected, concealed within a legitimate load, very cleverly concealed, there was a heavy plant inside the load that was hollowed out. The only purpose of this lorry was the carcass * * * stuffed with 2.5 million cigarettes. Customs and Excise have a certain threshold where they are allowed or not allowed to let loads go, with very quick negotiations between four services—that was ourselves, the Police Service in Northern Ireland, Customs & Excise and the Security Service—we hooked together an operation plan very quickly, on the hoof, a very effective operational plan, that took that vehicle to the North of England, where it arrived at a farm. Just to give you an indication of the speed of the activity, literally within minutes of this vehicle unloading its goods in a large empty barn and then moving on into the road network, off towards its port of departure back to Ireland, a whole swarm of white vans arrived to take this stuff off to the local distribution point. Yes, decisions have to be made very quickly. When we do arrive on the lorry we have someone with no security tracings, criminals with no security tracings, and there is this balance to be achieved between seizing the goods and establishing whether the goods are linked to paramilitary terrorism. The link is the person who is paying the driver and engaging the criminals, that person has not touched the British mainland in the operation. It is really holding up these relationships, that is the main focus of our activity. I would say they have been very successful and I hope we continue to be so.


  134. Thank you. Mr Veness, you and your colleagues have given us very helpful evidence, very frank. As I said before, we will send you the transcript of what you said so you can decide whether any of it should not see the light of day—you cannot unsay anything you said but we will do our best to accommodate you all. Thank you very much indeed.
  (Mr Veness) May I return the thanks of my colleagues for your interest in our work as well.

  135. We hope in the end we will be able to help with this report.
  (Mr Veness) We regard this as a very important and developing area and we are very grateful for your time. Thank you.

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